ENGLEWOOD The San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots have two things in common. They each shut down the Denver Broncos’ running game, and they all use a 3-4 defensive alignment with three defensive linemen and four linebackers. The bad news for the Broncos is the Pittsburgh Steelers, their opponent in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, also use a 3-4 defense. Most NFL teams run a 4-3 defense with four defensive linemen and three linebackers. San Diego and New England were two of the four teams to hold Denver to less than 100 yards rushing this season. The Broncos also had less than 100 yards rushing against Miami when they abandoned the run in the second half of a blowout loss, and against Baltimore, which used four defensive linemen and four linebackers for much of the game. Denver needed overtime to crack 100 yards rushing against Dallas on Thanksgiving. The Broncos had 89 rushing yards through four quarters. Ron Dayne broke a 55-yard run in overtime. The Broncos don’t think the 3-4 alignment is their problem. “It doesn’t hurt to have good players,” right tackle George Foster said. “If you run a 3-4 with (lousy) players, it’s not going to work. Most teams that run it have good players.” Coach Mike Shanahan agreed with Foster. He said the teams that ran the 3-4 defense and shut down Denver’s running game were tough because of their talented personnel. Pittsburgh also has superior talent at defensive line and linebacker. The Steelers were third in the NFL in rushing defense during the season. “When you get a good front seven, like Pittsburgh has and how they play, it can keep you off balance because they’re very quick and very talented,” Shanahan said. Running back Mike Anderson said 3-4 defenses are difficult to run against because players have different responsibilities. In a 3-4 defense, linemen usually engage with the offensive linemen in front of them and hold their ground. In a 4-3 defense, defenders are usually responsible for penetrating a gap between linemen, and the Broncos are adept at finding a hole when they get out of position. Typically one of the keys to a strong 3-4 defense is a big nose tackle who lines up over center. San Diego has Jamal Williams, New England has Vince Wilfork and Pittsburgh has Casey Hampton, all of whom weigh more than 325 pounds. “They don’t go anywhere,” Anderson said of linemen in a 3-4 defense. Running back Tatum Bell said teams that run 3-4 defenses are usually a little more unpredictable. On most plays at least one linebacker blitzes, and it’s hard to figure where the blitzes will come from. “It’s more difficult,” Bell said. “Somebody’s coming every play and you don’t know where they’re coming from. It’s tricky.” Ticket issues The Broncos won’t make any special request to their fans to dissuade them from selling tickets to Steelers fans who travel well and are often a loud presence in opposing stadiums. Two weeks ago Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said he hoped Bengals fans would not sell playoff tickets to Steelers fans. Before last week’s Colts-Steelers playoff game, the Colts sent an e-mail signed by team president Bill Polian and coach Tony Dungy that asked fans to not sell tickets to Steelers fans. “We trust our fans to come to the games, root, and not sell to the other teams,” Broncos spokesman Jim Saccomano said. The Broncos took one step to avoid being overrun by Steelers fans. Only fans in the Rocky Mountain region could buy tickets during the first hour of Sunday’s public sale. The Broncos sold out of about 15,000 tickets in less than 30 minutes. CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-4891 or email@example.com
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.